SC Judges Ponder Over Right to Property, Vote
CENTRAL ISSUE During right to privacy debate, two judges ask why right to vote and right to property are not fundamental rights CHANGE OF LAW
New Delhi: Supreme Court judges, debating whether or not citizens have a fundamental right to privacy, have wondered aloud about the status of right to vote and property as well. A nine-judge bench wrapped up arguments last week on the privacy issue in the Aadhaar context. During the proceedings, at least two judges asked why the right to vote and the right to property were not fundamental rights. Justice RF Nariman expressed the view that the right to property should have been retained as a fundamental right. Right to property was a fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution till the government in 1978 changed the law to reduce it only to a legal right. The government had then defended it as necessary to pave the way for agrarian reforms. The amendment gave it the power to acquire any property for a public purpose, paying an “amount” and not a “compensation”.
Nariman said this placed the “little man” at a huge legal disadvanta- ge. “Rights of the little man must be protected,” he said. “Right to property should be made a fundamental right,” Nariman said in one of his many interventions during the debate on privacy.
In 2011, a Supreme Court bench headed by Justice GS Singhvi had declared that the state must stick to law while depriving citizens of property and dubbed right to property a constitutional right.
Justice Jasti Chelameswar spoke about the need to have a funda- mental right to vote.
Right to vote is a legal right in India, conferred by a statute. So is the right to contest elections.
A legal right is created by an ordinary law and can be taken away by changing the law. A fundamental right, on the other hand, is guaranteed by the Constitution and allows a citizen to move Supreme Court for its enforcement. It can only be curtailed by a constitution amendment which must pass the test of “reasonable restrictions.”
Since the rights to vote and contest elections are legal rights, some state have enacted laws to tweak those. One such law, which made having a toilet in the house mandatory for candidates contesting panchayat polls, was challenged in court but was upheld by Justice Chelameswar. There is no fundamental right to vote in the Constitution though we have a parliamentary form of democracy. Article 326 of the Constitution only speaks of adult suffrage for those above 18.
Justice Chelameswar said he did not agree with the view that the right to vote was only a legal right. “I do not believe that we don’t have at least a constitutional right to vote,” he said.